August 14, 2011
High energy, high Dead, hi-fi MATRIX
I will admit that in the five-or-so years that I have been listening to the treasure trove of Dead tapes on the Archive, matrix recordings haven't been among my first pick of go-to tapes. For those who don't know, whenever you see the tag "MATRIX" by a recording, it means that a technical guru has taken the audience recording and soundboard recording of a show and overlapped them to produce a better sound. There are all sorts of technical matters that go into the production of a matrix which I am not aware of, but from what my ears can tell me, this is done to even out the sound of an unbalanced audience recording, or to add some depth to a very flat-sounding SBD. For instance, these recordings help add some punch to Phil's bass, increase of fidelity of the sound, or bring the vocal levels up in the recording. They even out the sound of AUDs that could be great, but suffered from sound quality anomalies, or poor microphone placement in the venue. There are all sorts of sound level combinations used to get the best sound out of a show. Matrix recordings are especially helpful in improving the sound of 1974 AUDs and SBDs.
SIRMick has given us some great Matrices from this majestic era of Dead performances. Any of his shows from '74 are amazing. We all know the problems that '74 tapes have, on both AUD and SBD tapes. '74 AUDs suffer from the limitations of the taping technology of their time, and many '74 SBDs don't have the greatest balance or depth, leading to a sound that I think has been best termed as sounding "flat." The special microphones that were used with the Wall of Sound prevented feedback but also condensed the sound of the vocals to the point where some shows sound like the band is singing under water. A good matrix will overdub the tinny SBD vocals with the much better audience tape vocals (the mics apparently sounded better coming through the speakers than when recorded directly off of the board). Aside from the vocals, each instrument becomes more clearly defined as the SBD adds its strengths to the audience tape's weaknesses. For Jerry, you will notice that his sound becomes clearer and intricate solo notes are more easily heard. The audience chatter and cheers (something us AUD fans love) remains, but we don't suffer from a lack of sound quality that causes some to turn away from audience tapes.
I am a lover of both SBDs and AUDs, but in some cases, the matrix is clearly superior. 1974-05-25 is one of those tapes. The AUD is good, but the high-end is muddy and the whole tape sounds very one-dimensional. Mixing in the SBD has truly revived the quality of this show, and the pure energy explosion of the first set rings through crystal clear.
Keith earns his place among the greatest keys players of all time in this tape. His piano playing is extraordinary on tracks like "U.S. Blues", "Mexicali Blues" and "Scarlet Begonias." The band is truly on fire throughout this whole set. The "Ship of Fools" reminds me why it is one of my favorite songs.
I am fairly certain that this show contains some of the fastest tempo versions of songs they ever did on their '73-'74 tours. The Scarlet Begonias tears through your sonic waves like a black stallion running at full speed. The China>Rider melts your face with a wicked fast Bobby solo, shortly followed by Jerry's fingers rapidly dancing up the next of his guitar. Total insanity!
Overall, a great matrix, and a great show from 1974.